Perceptions define our lives. They can limit our experiences or expand our horizons. Consider the casual hiker as he observes the face of a 1,000 foot granite dome. He may marvel at the enormity of the monolith, but soon he moves on. When a seasoned rock climber observes the contours of the same granite dome, she studies the multitude of cracks and handholds that will lead her to the top, then sorts through her gear to climb it.

Most people I know would be the first to admit—they'd be content to stand at the base of the dome, but would never consider climbing it. A year-and-a-half ago, as I prepared to embark upon a 100-mile trek in the Everest region, they asserted: “We're so proud of you. What an ambitious adventure!” While they perceived the journey to be beyond the realm of possibility, I encountered people in their sixties and seventies, even one in her eighties, who believed in the possibility of pursuing it.   

Of course, each of us has our limitations. One afternoon, I met a group of mountaineers who were about to engage in an even more amazing feat—to summit the world's highest peak. All of a sudden, our trek paled in comparison. When I voiced this observation to my husband, he replied: “There will always be people with more demanding goals than yours, and people with lesser ones.” Shedding new light on my perspective, his comment made me smile. I would never climb Everest, not in a million years.

While our perceptions vary by experience, motivation, and know-how, it's being open to the possibility of trying new things that allows us to discover what we can truly achieve. Case in point: I'm a refined stick-figure artist. My characters suffer from flat feet and undefined shoulders. If someone asked, “Is there an artist in the room?” my hand would be the last one to rise. But if there's one thing I envy, it's an artistic ability to portray images. “Of course you can draw,” my artist friends tell me, with the attitudes of flippant teenagers. “Everyone can draw.”

Which explains why I purchased a sketchbook and pencils for a recent trip to the mountains. While my husband and his friends hoisted themselves up a 1,000 foot climb near Yosemite, I elected to stay behind. It may have been the Fourth of July, but it didn't faze me to spend the day alone. In fact, I welcomed the solitude to try my hand at a task I'd always deemed impossible.

It was just me and the blank page, nothing more.  

I started off by watching You Tube tutorials that demonstrated how to hold a pencil (lightly), and how to apply the tip to the paper (perpendicular). I watched a video about the importance of determining how the angle of a light source affects the subject's shading. I followed the steps to sketching a perfect wine bottle, a (not-so-perfect) rose, and a forest of trees. Before long, I grew tired of the videos, forging my own path instead.

I searched through a pile of magazines, and located a photograph that appealed to me: an up-close-and-personal countenance of an owl. With its head pivoted at a slight angle to the camera, the owl's left eye fixated on a distant object while a fluff of feathers buried the right. Not only was this an odd perspective to tackle, especially for a newbie like myself, but I'd selected a subject whose pattern of feathers was more complicated than a New York City road map.

I folded the image into quarters, divided my page into identical-sized quadrants, then plucked a pencil out of its box. As clouds swelled atop distant Sierra ridges and buzzards circled outside, I lost myself in the image of the owl. Sketching in the upper right quadrant, I gradually proceeded to the lower right, measuring the distance from the top of the image to the gazing eye. Concentrating on the lower left block, I copied the hooked beak and the slice of right eye hidden in a poof of feathers.

When at last I unfolded the sketch, my skin prickled with gooseflesh. By any stretch of the imagination, the drawing wasn't perfect. But dang, it wasn't bad, either. For a split-second, the revelation startled me—it seemed as if an alien force had invaded my body and unleashed my ability to draw. This artist's perception had eluded me for years, fermenting in a cauldron of gray matter more commonly known as my brain. Now it stared me square in the face, all because I gave it a chance.

“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves,” the dreamer, Thomas Edison said.  Point well taken, Mr. Edison. I couldn't agree with you more.

For over 35 years, Elaine Pike has been a backpacker and outdoor enthusiast. A recent rejuvenation of her 1980's love of rock climbing is now added to her adventure repertoire. Paired with her enthusiasm for the written word, Elaine strives to share her passion, inspire, and entertain with her first published memoir, Footsteps of Gopal, a tale about trekking in Nepal.

Hand Drawing on Blank Poster image courtesy of Shutterstock

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